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The science of indulging one's children

Instead of offering candy, gadgets or other materialistic gifts as incentives, indulge kids with your time, effort and expressions of gratitude

Overindulgence leads to dependence on materialistic gratification and conditional bonding. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
Overindulgence leads to dependence on materialistic gratification and conditional bonding. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

Indulgence is gratifying, not just for the one receiving but also for the one providing it. No wonder this has become a bankable habit in relationships, particularly in parenting. Indulging children is like going down an easy road. It makes them smile, jump with joy, leaves us feeling worthy and gets the job done every time, making it hard not to rely on it.

Needless to say it has its share of problems. Like with too much of anything, overindulgence too leads to dependence on materialistic gratification and conditional bonding. As a result, needs could become bigger and expressions of disappointment, louder. Yet we all succumb to the pleasures of it.

I feel effective parenting is all about being honest to yourself. Once we identify and accept our hits and misses (please don't take that literally), and here I am talking about dropping our defences and denials of what we need to do differently, only then can we start work on those growth areas. Believe me we are all imperfect and it is those imperfections that make every human being unique. However, once we admit taking shortcuts and indulging kids that we can course correct.

Common indulgences for children include gifts, food and permissions for various requests. We learn to use these along the way to express love in relationships. These can over time lead to emotional and behavioural concerns. As parents, we need to define the idea of indulgence better, acknowledge boundaries and communicate the same to our children. It is also necessary to stop using indulgences as incentives or compensations.

I confess I like to indulge my children too. However, these are not used as rewards. They are not conditional, or based on good or poor behaviour. I have devised these for myself knowing my strengths and weaknesses, what I can do without being a sacrificing, overworked and exhausted mother. And honestly,I find a lot of joy for myself in doing them too. Following are my easy go to indulgences:

Actions or effort: This is a category which involves doing something for them. Making a card, baking or cooking what they like, making a toy out of old socks or writing them letters. I do include shopping for them in this category, but the focus is on the action not on the items or gifts.

Spending time with them: While this is my favourite, I’m always careful to sign up for the activity we decide to do together. Long hours (unless on holidays) or video games are not possible for me. We enjoy short periods of conversations, hugs and cuddles, fixing a quick pie together, or just sitting and listening to them. Usually I inform them how much time I have, so we mutually pick what we want to do with that time in hand. They often manage to surprise me with their accurate calculations of how many rounds of “rummikub” will fit in the time we have.

Words of acknowledgment and gratitude: This is a category I strongly believe in and recommend. Indulging children with words of acknowledgement over their effort, love, struggles or just being themselves. This is not the same as praise or rewarding with words. I often express gratitude not just for the good stuff but also for the challenges that help us learn, areas we get stuck in or disagreements we have.

The feelings generated from indulgence depend upon the meanings we attach to it: the way we perceive it, the value we put on different experiences and what we choose to value. By setting examples of healthy choices in indulgences, we can help our children seek joys in simple, honest and practical ones too.

Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.

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